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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/5/10

Rev. Jim Rigby Tackles the Health Care Debate

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Welcome to OpEdNews, Rev. Rigby, Jim. Last September, you wrote a piece called "Why is Universal Health Care 'UnAmerican'?" And, while universal health care remains off the table all these months later, the health care debate is still raging in Congress and across the country. Your remarks are still relevant and timely. So, for those readers who missed them first time around, could you tell us your thoughts on the issue?

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Thank you Joan, I'm honored to be speaking with you. That article came from a speech given at a large health care rally in Austin. At the time, many of us realized that the public option (health care for all) was probably a bargaining chip that hung in the balance. Like many, I suspected that Democrats were almost as eager to kill that possibility as were the Republicans. I did not expect the legislative gargoyle that would eventually emerge from the White House, but was already concerned that the people crying for universal health care would be left behind.

The event changed for me about an hour before the big rally. I had been asked to speak at a smaller event at the state capital. Before I could speak, a mob of tea party members invaded the event, shouting us down and trying to provoke violence by taunting us. That confrontation took the speech to a different place. I realized that the health care debate is a symbol for a much larger divide in our nation. There are those whose organizing principle for society is property rights protected by violence. There are others whose organizing principle is that of universal human rights.

As I rose to speak about health care, I also wanted to address that divide. My only purpose in accepting the invitation in the first place was to give those who wanted real health care a chance to be heard. When I asked who wanted universal health care, the cheer shook the building. That cry is the real voice of this nation. We are a nation in captivity to corporate power.

I understand the need for compromise in politics, but the current proposal by the White House isn't compromise. It is betrayal. Political people say we need to be realistic and sometimes we have to take two steps backward to move three steps forward. I agree, but we also have to realize when we are being deceived into taking two steps forward and three steps backward. That is our current situation. We are being asked to choose between travesties.

We'll talk about what the latest developments mean in a minute. For those who weren't at the Austin rally and haven't read your op ed piece, tell us more about why universal health care is so crucial and so American a value.

Your question leads us to the heart of the matter. The reason we choose to live in a democracy is so we can have a say in the decisions that most affect our lives. Few things affect our lives more than health care. It is, in fact, vacuous to say we have a right to life, if we do not have access to the necessities of life. Health care certainly falls into that category.

I believe we are caught in a false dilemma when we argue over if we should trust our health care to business or to government. It is easy to stand on either pole of that dichotomy and point out the flaws on the other side. After all, both government and industry are deeply co-opted systems at this point in history. Still, the truth is that both of these institutions will be a part of any realistic solution to our health care problems. The real question is what role each will play and how we can reform them both.

Corporations are not built to be accountable to the public sector. Only elected government can represent the common good. So, business must be under the control of government. I agree with the tea party that we need a radical overhaul of government to make it transparent and accountable, but we are not a democracy if corporations make our decisions for us. It is demagoguery to attack government per se. Government is however we choose to share power. In a democracy, we are the government. Those who ridicule government in a democracy are laughing at themselves.

So, how do you suppose we get what we need from Congress and the president in terms of health care coverage?

Sadly, I don't think we will get what we need from the President or Congress. Democracies aren't saved by heroic leaders, but by diligent citizens. The economic system in which our leaders are imbedded makes disaster inevitable. Unless we lift health care out of the current system driven by personal profit, failure is inevitable. A health care system driven by insurance companies will always make more money by denying coverage than providing it. And we can't fix part of this problem. Doctors, lawyers, pharmaceutical companies, a lazy citizenship- we are all part of the problem. Blaming each other isn't going to get us out of this mess.

We can get want we need, but only if we work together for the common good. You can''t save the Titanic by changing captains. You save it by changing course.

I was not familiar with you until a few months ago when I read your piece on universal health care. How did you get involved in the health care debate in the first place? Is your church in Austin an activist congregation and are you generally an activist clergyman, or did the issue itself galvanize you?

I am an activist now, but wasn't when I first got out of seminary. Working with survivors of rape taught me that violence hides in discrepencies of power and lack of access to what one needs. I began to realize that it wasn't enough for me to work as a volunteer at the rape center. If I really wanted women to be safe, I had to affirm that there bodies belong to them. I had to work for abortion rights.

Slowly, I became aware of gay and lesbian issues and became an actist there as well. Eventually I realized that the church can be injustice's best hiding place, so churches have a special obligation to challenge the powers that be. I've been in trouble most of my career, but fortunatly, I was a slow enough learner where there was never quite critical mass to fire me. The church I am at now is very supportive of activism.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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